Friday, May 29, 2009

Increasing efficiencies through collaboration

Just finished reading an article in the Seattle Business Journal about several non-profit agencies that have created a coalition to find ways to save money and weather the economic challenges.

I've had the privilege of working with one of the non-profits mentioned and know the ED is a highly collaborative & creative person, so I wasn't surprised. Can you imagine for-profit orgs doing this? Anyone have similar examples to share?

Access the full article here =>

Sylva Leduc, MEd, MPEC
The Leadership Strategist

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

good may be subjective, but bad is always bad

At today's launch of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at the Rutgers Business School, an audience member commented that Charity Navigator's reduction of multiple inputs to one single, evaluative number seems "eerily similar" to the un-transparent financial metrics and business data simplification that brought about the economic crisis.

Surprise! Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator, was also in the audience, and he responded that the organization is indeed seeking a variety of metrics to assess and report on the true value and efficiency of nonprofits -- BUT, that the organizations that are now receiving 1s and 2s are truly deserving of being called out on their abhorrently inefficient business and philanthropic practices.

Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

During a recent conference call with other contributors to the Advancing the Non Profit Sector blog, we discussed how many non profit organizations could better capitalize on the collective knowledge and experience of all staff members and volunteers by creating a culture of philanthropy.

Many organizations get caught up in the silo phenomenon - every staff member or department operates mainly in their own silo without knowing what's going on in the neighboring one. They're not even sure about how they fit into the overall organization. It's especially evident in fundraising - most staff or volunteers not involved in fund development don't feel they can or want to contribute to the program. 

Non profit leaders can encourage everyone to be part of the overall organization by ensuring they are well acquainted with the mission and vision. Have them explore how they fit into the organization and encourage them to be part of the bigger picture. Organize informal gatherings where stories can be shared among colleagues. A story from the program delivery staff might trigger some ideas among the fund development staff.

Encourage staff and volunteers to share connections they may have with donor or board prospects. Everyone is part of the overall community and has formed relationships that may be beneficial to the organization as well as the prospect.

Breaking down the silos will strengthen your organization and ultimately benefit your constituents.

Simply Possible

Recently, I met with the membership sub-committee of our local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. One subtext of the 20-minute meeting, which for convenience was held directly after the regular chapter meeting, was how we could, given our workloads and responsibilities, efficiently and effectively support memberships of this all-volunteer organization.

Among other things, we agreed to keep the structure informal, i.e., to arrive at chapter meetings early to meet and greet people as our schedules allowed vs. creating monthly assignments to do the same. We left the meeting with a dozen tasks to do —none extremely time consuming, but all designed to support the organization and share the workload.

Using the concept of that is is possible to simplify but still remain effective, what is one action you can do today to reduce the workload at your nonprofit?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Recruiting Board Members? Mission Attachment Must Be a Key Criterion

I recently attended the biennial nonprofit governance conference co-sponsored by the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership and the Nonprofit Quarterly. As always, I found it exciting to hear the most cutting-edge research that impacts the work I do.

I walked away with a great deal, but one of the key validations was work done by Will Brown out of Texas A & M University. Will has been looking at factors that encourage board members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. He found the strongest is mission attachment.

This really should not be a surprise to anyone. It seems obvious that someone who has an affinity for your organization’s mission is likely to work harder to see it come to fruition. However, the finding should serve as a reminder to all of us recruiting board members that focusing on finding people who care about the mission is truly important. Such research might even get us to rethink our often single-minded desire to identify individuals with affluence and influence – shown a few years back by Dave Renz and Bob Herman at the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership to be negatively correlated to board effectiveness.

It should also serve as a reminder of the necessity for frequent board education. It is only through the internalization of the organization’s values, client stories, program statistics and outcomes that mission attachment – and pride! – can grow.

Of course, my 30 plus years of experience convinces me that boards should also be looking for strategic thinkers – people who ask the hard questions, probe, understand the ramifications of decisions and can look beyond the same old, same old to creatively help move the organization closer to the achievement of its vision. But what a combination… people with passion who are motivated by that passion to use their skills as strategic thinkers to benefit the organization! There is little such board members couldn’t accomplish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tell Me What’s Good About Tough Times: #2, Savings Because We Looked

This morning the local newspaper was published 1.5 inches smaller –with the same news. Last month, instead of it all being tossed each week, the bulletin for Sunday worship was re-organized into two parts: half to reuse for the liturgical season and half to recycle with the day’s event. And this quarter, a client’s newsletter is being produced in-house at a cost savings of over 75 cents per page.

After this, when we find economic good times once again, we’ll keep some of these savings and continue to use them for services that improve peoples lives. Many organizations in many ways are finding ways to save money because the times require it. The essence of our work doesn’t always take lots and lots of resources, but lots of creative ideas combined with the right resources. Success is trying them out and keeping the best. Where are you finding savings now—that you will continue?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Conveying confidence during trying times

I recently listened to an author talk about the importance of trust. While the context of the discussion was directed towards helping oneself, I immediately thought about leaders in non-profit organizations and how they help their employees and volunteers through times of change and uncertainty.

When people venture into unknown territories, they are often filled with trepidation. Fear subsides when they realize they're not the first ones to go into the unknown, and confidence builds when they discover there is a path to follow.

Leaders create the roadmap and act as the guide.

We may venture into the unknown with a coach, a friend, a mentor, or, perhaps we have only ourselves to rely upon. In any case, what we tell ourselves, and the actions we take, determines how we handle change and uncertainty. You, as a leader, set the example for others to follow.

For instance, think about how you might respond when facing a very challenging situation. Typically, heartbeat quickens while breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. So, even though blood pumps through your veins, you are starving your brain. You may even display a deer-in-the-headlights look. Not a great combination for making good decisions, taking effective action or instilling confidence.

When facing a new situation it’s vital to slow down for a moment, take some deep “yoga breaths” in which you feel your diaphragm go up and down. Only then can you begin to explore options because you are ensuring your brain receives enough oxygen to think clearly. Reflect on what was similar in previous challenges and how you overcame obstacles. Explore options and trust your decision to take committed actions (i.e. create the roadmap). You’ll find that when you convey confidence, others trust that you (as their leader) are ahead of them guiding the way.

Sylva Leduc,
The Leadership Strategist

Author, Roadmap to Success

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Pros and Cons of Consensus

"Too often philanthropic partnerships have goals that are so watered down as to prevent the very nonconformist leadership that our country so desperately needs philanthropy to provide." Emmett Carson, president of The Silicon Valley Community Foundation

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a More Perfect Union”

Is it peculiar to begin a blog entry for advancing the nonprofit sector by quoting a piece of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution? Perhaps at first glance. Rebecca Rimel, President and Chief Executive Officer, refers to the preamble in the Pew Charitable Trust 2009 Prospectus. She refers to the genius of the founding fathers, “in their humble embrace of imperfection in pursuit of the greatest possible good that circumstances would allow...Their simple yet audacious hope was to create a ‘more perfect’- not perfect, but more perfect--union than the world had previously seen. “

Does this sound like the work you do at your nonprofit? You embrace the imperfections around you while seeking the greatest possible good. You work to make your service and programs more perfect.

This summarizes our approach to nonprofit program development and program excellence. The goal is to make your programs more perfect, in good times and bad…and never stop. You can read about the reasons why you need to build even more perfect programs and how to do it at Scroll down to Building World Class programs, Nine Reasons A World-Class Program, or Two, Are MUSTS for Every Nonprofit and Ten Steps To Create A World-Class Program.